A probe by the Auditor General into alleged irregularities in the issuing of visas to Algerians was hampered by certain historical data held by the Foreign Ministry being “purged”.
The probe sought to establish if there were irregularities in the way Malta’s consul in Algeria issued visas in 2014 and 2015.
In a report published last week, the Auditor General found that comparisons with Algerian visa data from 2010 to 2013 held by the Foreign Ministry could not be made, as the data had been “purged”.
Prior to Malta establishing a consulate in 2014, applications were processed through a representation agreement with France.
The National Audit Office (NAO) said the Foreign Ministry’s failure to retain this data was “extremely anomalous”, more so when the data should have served as a basis for the government’s decision to establish a consular presence in Algeria.
The NAO said the “ambiguity” in failing to keep the data was further accentuated when one considers that data for 2008 and 2009 was retained.
“Even if data retention for these years was not required in terms of regulatory compliance, the Office is of the understanding that such information was essential in terms of operational considerations,” the NAO said.
In a statement reacting to the report, the Nationalist Party said the report confirmed that it was an “unexplained decision by Castille” in 2013, which led to the setting up the consulate, at a time when the consul was the Prime Minister’s cousin.
The NAO’s analysis found that 484 of the 6,779, visas issued between March 2014 and September 2015, were not recommended for approval by the immigration police, yet the visas were subsequently approved by the consul.
Police recommended these visas for refusal because the applicants’ intentions to leave EU territory before the expiry of their visa could not be ascertained and justification for the purpose and conditions of the intended stay was not provided, the report said.
Conversely, it was also discovered that there were 865 applications where the police posted no adverse remarks yet the consul refused the issuance of a visa.
Malta mentioned in alerts issued by Frontex about possible illegal immigration
When requested to comment by the NAO, the consul maintained that the decision was ultimately his responsibility yet acknowledged the instances of “incongruence”.
The consul told the NAO that the frequencies of divergence between the police’s recommendations and his actions lessened with time.
In the report, the NAO acknowledged that the consul’s decision was final and not determined by the police recommendation.
It also noted the competing interests that the consul was to consider in attempting to balance national security, commercial considerations and bilateral relations when coming to the granting or otherwise of visas.
E-mail correspondence obtained by the NAO led auditors to “note” that the consul initially lacked the necessary experience for the running of a Consulate.
Another limitation noted by the NAO related to difficulties experienced by the consul in view of his “limited knowledge” of languages spoken in Algeria.
“In this regard, this Office traced correspondence wherein the consul requested the LEP [locally engaged person] to translate e-mails from French to English,” the NAO said.
The report also revealed that Malta was mentioned in two alerts issued by Frontex about the possible illegal immigration of Algerian nationals and Maltese visas obtained fraudulently in Algiers.
According to the Frontex alerts, Algerian women and children were departing Algiers with a transit through Marseille in France to the final destination in Malta.
However, their intention was to stay in the EU territory, possibly France, given that at times they only had tickets to Marseille and without money to justify their stay as tourists in Malta.
The NAO said in its concluding remarks that the investigation of alleged payments to government officials for preferential treatment in the obtaining of visas did not fall within its remit.